Lying: A Short-Term Gain That Leads to Long-Term Pain
No CEO or company leader starts out in their professional journey thinking they’ll ever lie to get ahead, save face, or cut a corner. But once again, as recent news events have reminded us, organizations and leaders are getting tangled in a web of lies. In just the past six months, the deceitful ways of some major brands, including Volkswagen, Peanut Corporation of America (Kellogg supplier), and Toshiba, are just a few of the big names that have been exposed. While the fallout from some of these events continues, it’s clear that these organizations and some of their power players have been betraying their customers and stakeholders. As a leader yourself, these examples serve as a critical reminder about the importance of remaining honest. This doesn’t just mean telling the truth, either. It’s about avoiding any tendency to downplay or over-exaggerate truth, two common behaviors that can send leaders down a slippery slope of greater deceit. To stay on the straight and narrow, consistently assess how what you promise aligns with what you deliver and do. Avoid any temptation to lie; it’s always a short-term gain that leads to long-term pain.
Here are three areas of your business where you must continually strive to maintain solid ethics and integrity:
Products & Services. It’s this simple: Whatever products or services you offer should do what they’re developed, promoted, marketed, or advertised to do. Companies that fail in their product and service commitments almost always, eventually, pay a price—and it’s never a pretty situation. They may lose customers, market share, and profitability. The government may fine them, or, as was the case with the CEO of the Peanut Corporation of America, who played a role in a deadly salmonella outbreak, offending leaders can even go to prison. If something your company is offering or making isn’t right or defective, admit it upfront and be prepared to take responsibility, taking immediate corrective action and managing appropriate apologies as needed.
People. Sometimes business leaders discover that an employee has made a mistake, perhaps by being dishonest about their work or with other team members. When this happens and depending on the situation and the people involved, it can be very tempting for leaders to sweep it under the rug or turn a blind eye. For example, with the recent Volkswagen scandal, someone in the upper ranks of the company is covering up for someone else’s unethical behavior in regard to lying about the safety of their cars’ emissions. But Disciplined Leaders know the dangers of a cover-up and refuse to partake in such scandalous behaviors. If you’re ever faced with unethical employee activity, face it head on—and the sooner, the better. Get your facts straight so you can effectively deal with any troublemakers and maintain the credibility and respect of everyone else in your organization.
Performance Results. If your company has shareholders, you owe it to them to be honest about how the organization is performing. When organizations mask truth in regard to performance results, such as was the case with Toshiba and its CEO who lied about company profits, the errors of their ways almost always get revealed. Often, these companies become the target of media frenzy, then get sued by their shareholders. Sometimes unethical reporting can even land guilty parties in prison. Without a doubt, these events can totally erase any shareholder value, destroy the company’s credibility, and eradicate any shareholder confidence in the leader. Disciplined Leaders, those who consistently act according to strong ethics and integrity, know lying about performance is cheating—and no one likes a cheat. No question about it: If results are poor, it’s tough to communicate bad news to shareholders. But you report to them, and these investors have a right to know the truth and play a role in any appropriate corrective actions.
When have you told the hard truth even though a lie might have felt easier?